I’d like to introduce myself a bit better, but I am having trouble finding proper words. The beginning is the hardest part of most things, I find. So I’m just going to write about someone else in my life who is very important to me (and I bet you’ll learn about me in the process).
I am currently finishing up my senior year of high school. I have had a certain teacher for two years – for the sake of privacy, let’s call her Dr. Cat – whom I adore both as a teacher and as a person. And I want to tell you about her tears.
Yeah, weird, I know. But before I get to that, I’ll tell you that she has been my English teacher, my Gender Studies teacher, and my Philosophy teacher. In her classes I’ve read literature ranging from The Great Gatsby, As I Lay Dying, Moby-Dick, and Plato’s Republic to Guyland, The Symposium and selections of works by Aristotle, Ayn Rand, Hume, and Aquinas. Let’s just say it’s been interesting. The most interesting, most fun part of high school, actually.
You can probably already tell that I’m not a huge fan of high school. Don’t get me wrong – I like my high school (I go to a pretentious prep-school) and I have (some) friends. But I love literature and classical/opera music and museums, and I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I always want to be singing or reading, and so I really don’t like high school in general. This time of life is just all a big mess for everyone, myself included…no matter how good the education I’ve been fortunate enough to receive. But I digress on this issue for now.
On to the good stuff. In short, I feel lucky that Dr. Cat cries in front of me. No, she doesn’t sob or moan in a ridiculous manner. She’s not unprofessional or immature. Quite the contrary, in my opinion. I think she is brave and honest. She is never afraid to be real, to be direct. I’ll give you an example. One of my classmates, let’s call her K, has a parent who is dying of cancer. I was talking with Dr. Cat earlier in the year about this terrible situation. Dr. Cat told me she wanted to be there for K but is only a teacher…she said it so earnestly, with so much compassion and regret…and she wanted to cry. Her eyes swam. But she continued looking at me, continued the conversation, even as a solitary tear coursed down her cheek.
Once, Dr. Cat told me that she loves churches, despite not really believing in God. She was raised a Christian, and she feels that she can’t give up her ties to her culture and family. She tried, but couldn’t quite explain why she loves to be in an empty church all alone. I thought for a moment, thought about her being adopted and waif-like and beautiful and confused and wise, with eyes so dark and bottomless that the pupils are almost invisible, and then I said, “Because you’re part of the chain. Time stretches, it is still and unbroken.” She smiled that sweet, tearful smile that is becoming so familiar and said “Yes! Exactly. Thank you for saying that.” And she continued beaming at me while she wiped her eyes.
On a rainy Friday morning a few months ago, I was sitting in the hallway doing homework, when Dr. Cat walked through the door, having just come from the cafeteria. She looked a bit dazed to me, so when she walked by and we exchanged greetings, I asked her if she was okay. She smiled and nodded, but thanked me. Later that day, I went to her classroom to turn in a paper. I knocked on her door; she opened it and ushered me into the lamp-lit room. I put my paper on the stack and began to make my way back to the door, but I lingered a bit, wanting to talk. I always want to talk to her. So we did talk a bit, and suddenly the conversation went from being a funny, surface one to one of the ones worthy of being in this blog post. I learned that three of her family members had died over the last month. I informed her that I would be giving her a hug.
“I’m giving you a hug,” is what I said.
“Because this is so sad, that’s why.”
I went over to her and threw my arms around her tiny frame. I was surprised at the strength with which she returned the embrace. And that she held on. Presently, I felt trembling. And I realized that, at eighteen, I was doing something for the first time in my life, something I had always wanted to do: I was holding someone while she cried.
Dr. Cat is a mix of various ethnicities, which gives her an exotic look. Her skin is light olive and her hair is golden, but her eyes are what I am most interested in. They are so big and dark and deep that you’d think they would be inscrutable; but they aren’t, because even as tears slip down her cheeks, she holds my gaze. Always. She never shies away from truth. She is so precise with her words, careful to share with me exactly what she means. She lives in the moment. She lets her ideas take shape as she speaks and is okay with faltering, which occasionally happens even though she has such a strong foundation of wisdom. It is not very often that someone will speak to me from within, from that core place. But she does, from a place where it is safe for her to trust me and for me to trust her. It’s as if she’s saying, “This is who I am, and I want you to know me.”
I am honored that I do.